Brett Dean studied in Brisbane before moving to Germany in 1984 where he was a member of the Berlin Philharmonic for fourteen years. Now one of the most internationally performed composers of his generation, much of Dean’s work draws from literary, political, environmental or visual stimuli, including a number of compositions inspired by artwork by his wife Heather Betts. His music is championed by many of the leading conductors and orchestras worldwide, including Sir Simon Rattle, Andris Nelsons, Vladimir Jurowski, David Robertson, Marin Alsop and Sakari Oramo.
Brett Dean began composing in 1988, initially concentrating on experimental film and radio projects and as an improvising performer. Dean’s reputation as a composer continued to develop, and it was through works such as his clarinet concerto Ariel's Music (1995), which won an award from the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers, and Carlo (1997) for strings, sampler and tape, inspired by the music of Carlo Gesualdo, that he gained international recognition. In 2000 Dean returned to his native Australia to concentrate on his composition, and he now shares his time between homes in Melbourne and Berlin.
In 2009 Dean won the Grawemeyer Award for music composition for his violin concerto The Lost Art of Letter Writing and in 2016 was awarded the Don Banks Music Award by Australia Council, acknowledging his sustained and significant contribution to Australia’s musical scene. In June 2017 his second opera Hamlet was premiered at Glyndebourne Festival Opera to great acclaim; directed by Neil Armfield with libretto by Matthew Jocelyn and conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, Hamlet receives its Australian premiere at the 2018 Adelaide Festival.
Dean enjoys a busy performing career as violist and conductor and performs his own Viola Concerto with many of the world’s leading orchestras. Dean is a natural chamber musician, frequently collaborating with other soloists and ensembles to perform both his own chamber works and standard repertoire, including projects with the Doric Quartet, Scharoun Ensemble and Alban Gerhardt. Dean’s imaginative conducting programmes usually centre around his own works combined with other composers and highlights include projects with the BBC Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Concertgebouw Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony, Sydney Symphony, BBC Philharmonic, Gothenburg Symphony, Toronto Symphony, Tonkünstler-Orchester, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra and as Artist in Residence with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.
Dean is 2017/18 Creative Chair at Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, a role which encompasses conducting, performing and creative programming. The season sees a comprehensive overview of Dean's orchestral and chamber music, with Dean joining the orchestra for concerts as conductor and soloist in his Viola Concerto as well as masterclasses and outreach work. Dean also continues as Artist in Residence with Sydney Symphony Orchestra across 2016-2018.
Other highlights of 2017/18 include three world premieres – an orchestral work for the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, a partner work to Brandenburg Concerto No.6 with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra in February 2018 conducted by Thomas Dausgaard, and a duo work for Colin Currie and Håkan Hardenberger, The Scene of the Crime, at Malmo Chamber Festival where he is Composer in Residence.
This season Dean conducts a number of orchestras including Sydney Symphony and Tonhalle Orchestra as part of his residencies, Auckland Philharmonia, City of London Sinfonia and RTE Symphony where he also performs the Irish premiere of his Viola Concerto. He tours a string quintet programme with Baiba Skride, Geri Gergana, Amihai Grosz and Alban Gerhardt including Zurich, Amsterdam, Luxembourg and Dortmund. Elsewhere his music is performed by many leading orchestras including the UK tour of Hamlet by Glyndebourne chorus/London Philharmonic Orchestra, Engelsflügel by San Francisco Symphony/Robertson and performances of Testament by Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin and BBC Philharmonic, Pastoral Symphony by the Aurora Orchestra/Collon.
Brett Dean’s music has been recorded for BIS, Chandos, Warner Classics, ECM Records and ABC Classics, with a new BIS release in 2016 of works including Shadow Music, Testament, Short Stories and Etudenfest performed by Swedish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Dean. Dean’s Viola Concerto has also been released on BIS with the Sydney Symphony, with Dean reviewed as “a formidable and musical player as well as an impressive composer…an excellent showcase of Dean's range as a composer” (Guardian). Looking ahead a DVD of Hamlet will be released by Glyndebourne.
Recent composing highlights
Hamlet (2014-2016) - opera to a libretto by Matthew Jocelyn based on Shakespeare's play. World premiere by Glynderbourne Opera conducted by Vladimir Jurowski in June 2017.
Dramatis Personae (2013) - trumpet concerto for Hakan Hardenberger, world premiere Grafenegg Festival and co-commissioned by Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, Danish National Symphony and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestras.
The Last Days of Socrates (2012) - world premiere Berlin Philharmonic / Rundfunkchor Berlin conducted by Simon Rattle with soloist John Tomlinson. Co-commissioned by Los Angeles Philharmonic/Dudamel and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Simone Young.
Bliss (2004-2009) - opera to a libretto by Amanda Holden after the novel by Peter Carey. World premiere by Opera Australia in Sydney and Melbourne, and European premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival.
The Lost Art of Letter Writing (2006) - violin concerto for Frank Peter Zimmermann, world premiere Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Brett Dean and co-commissioned by the Cologne Philharmonie and Stockholm Philharmonic. Winner of the 2009 Grawemeyer Award.
The music of Brett Dean is published by Boosey & Hawkes
Brett Dean’s career as conductor is blossoming alongside his work as composer and performer, his imaginative programmes usually centred around his own works combined with those of other composers.
Recent conducting highlights include the Sydney Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Concertgebouw Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony, BBC Philharmonic, Gothenburg Symphony, Tonkünstler-Orchester, Northern Sinfonia and as Artist in Residence with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.
A selection of Brett Dean’s recent and future conducting programmes
Strauss Till Eulenspiegel
Mozart Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat for Violin, Viola and Orchestra
Dean Beggars and Angels
Lutoslawski Sacher Variation for solo cello
Lutoslawski Symphony No.3
Dvorak Cello Concerto in B minor
R. Meale Clouds Now and Then
Thomas Meadowcroft Peacemaker Tattoo
Lisa Illean Land's End
Georges Lentz "Caeli enarrant ..." III
Brett Dean Engelsflügel
Anthony Pateras Immediata
Beethoven Adagio molto e mesto (from Rasumovsky Quartet No.1, Op.59) arr. Dean
Beethoven Symphony No.3 ‘Eroica’
Jean Sibelius Scènes historiques, Op.25, No.1 ‘All'overtura’
Brett Dean Dramatis Personae
Jean Sibelius Symphony No.3 in C major, Op.52
Brahms Academic Festival Overture
Bruch Double Concerto for viola and clarinet (play/direct)
Dean Ariel’s Music (clarinet concerto)
Brahms Tragic Overture
Brett Dean's Viola Concerto
Commissioned by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic & Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
“Having done so many pieces in recent years that tell an extra-musical story, or have a poetic or literary title, it seemed fitting that this should be a piece that examines first and foremost purely musical ideas... It’s nevertheless an essay in which I inhabit part-sonic and part-lyrical words as in much of my music... I’m treating it the same as a concerto I’d write for any other viola soloist, and certainly want to give myself something that I personally enjoy playing in terms of challenge, expression and virtuosity.”
Brett Dean on his Viola Concerto
Duration: 27 minutes
Performances past and future include: BBC Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Sydney Symphony, Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin, St Louis Symphony, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Danish National Symphony, Vancouver Symphony, Sydney Symphony, Melbourne Symphony, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, Dresden Philharmonic, Hamburg Philharmonic, Tonkunstler Orchestra, Orchestre National de Lyon, Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, Residentie Orkest, Trondheim Symphony, Malaysian Philharmonic
Viola Concerto conductors: Marc Albrecht, Lionel Bringuier, Baldur Brönnimann, Reinbert de Leeuw, André de Ridder, Olari Elts, Rumon Gamba, Marko Letonja, Hannu Lintu, James MacMillan, Sakari Oramo, Peter Oundjian, David Robertson, Esa-Pekka Salonen, John Storgards, François-Xavier Roth, Bramwell Tovey, Simone Young, Lothar Zagrosek
Viola Concerto Reviews
“Dean is a top-flight viola player as well as an upwardly mobile composer. His new Viola Concerto is a substantial affair, elegantly proportioned and full of colourful musical imagery." Guardian
"Dean has written something as personal as one would expect. The haunting and arresting sounds are all his own, and bright colours suggest a strong connection to his country’s landscape. Indeed, the peaceful close, in which the previously hectic solo viola emerges purified, evokes a lullaby in which the earth seems to be singing itself to sleep." The Times
“Each element of Dean's brilliant orchestration could be savored, as well as his own virtuosic playing.” Los Angeles Times
“...tightly structured and well-proportioned... Dean is a fine soloist, too, throwing off the blazingly virtuosic passages with unruffled ease while sustaining a strong, full-bodied tone. His orchestration is imaginative, full of evocative colours and striking effects” The Australian
“…Dean has lost none of his virtuosity as a performer, while confirming his reputation as an up-and-coming craftsman-composer… Curiously beautiful, somewhat enigmatic? No question.” Financial Times
Doric Quartet & Brett Dean:
Haydn String Quartet Op.20 No.1
Brett Dean Epitaphs (string quintet)
Brahms Quintet No.2 in G maj Op.111
Doric Quartet & Brett Dean – Ophelia Songs
Haydn String Quartet Op.76 No.65
Brett Dean String Quartet No.2 “And Once I Played Ophelia”
Brahms Ophelia Songs WoO.22 (arr Reimann)
Brahms String Quintet No.2 in G maj Op.111
With Doric Quartet, Brett Dean, SopranoTBC
Brett Dean performs a range of chamber music projects; future highlights include projects with Alban Gerhardt, the Scharoun Ensemble and at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.
Conductors who have recently conducted Brett Dean’s music include:
Marin Alsop, Andrey Boreyko, Martin Brabbins, Baldur Brönnimann, Oleg Caetani, Sylvain Cambreling, Nicholas Collon, Gustavo Dudamel, Reinbert de Leeuw, Olari Elts, Mark Elder, Thierry Fischer, Rumon Gamba, HK Gruber, Daniel Harding, Manfred Honeck, Elgar Howarth, Vladimir Jurowski, Tonu Kaljuste, Hannu Lintu, James MacMillan, Susanna Mälkki, Andris Nelsons, Jonathan Nott, Sakari Oramo, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Peter Oundjian, Sir Simon Rattle, Lawrence Renes, David Robertson, François-Xavier Roth, Kwamé Ryan, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Lan Shui, Dmitri Slobodeniuk, Thomas Søndergård, Markus Stenz, John Storgårds, Richard Tognetti, Joshua Weilerstein, Hugh Wolff, François Xavier-Roth, Simone Young, Lothar Zagrosek.
A voice of fertile imagination, originality and expressive subtlety.
...the two works here show Dean to be a formidable and musical player as well as an impressive composer. The Viola Concerto confirms the impression it made at its first performance… It is one of Dean's most successful orchestral works, an asymmetrical, three-movement structure that pivots about a dark, central scherzo.
…a towering masterpiece. Multi-layered and rhythmically complex, Fire Music’s imaginative depth, sophistication and sheer impact marks it as one of the most important works to come from an Australian composer.